Video feature: A stroll off campus to Princeton parks
While the 500 acres of Princeton University's park-like campus provide ample opportunities for quiet strolls close to home, more than 800 acres of forests, arboretums, wildlife preserves, war memorials and lakes lie within a 15-minute walk of campus. Dining Services will even pack a picnic for students ready to explore.
Mountain Lakes Nature Preserve
This preserve, found one mile north of Nassau Street, features 74 acres of walking and biking trails that loop through forestland surrounding a reservoir. Walking trails connect the preserve to Community Park North, the Witherspoon Woods and Farm View Fields.
Highlights: The main trail around the lake is a broad and welcoming walk, and summer months bring wildflowers and raspberries. Bikes are welcome on several trails.
Fair warning: Some of the side trails are narrower, with overhanging brush, so watch for poison ivy, ticks and mosquitoes.
Community Park North and Pettoranello Gardens
One mile north of Nassau Street, 71 acres of preserved land make up this park, which is split into two sections. Closest to campus, a meadow and paved paths surround an amphitheater and pond in the Pettoranello Gardens section; to the north, trails run through a pine plantation toward the Mountain Lakes Nature Preserve and the Witherspoon Woods.
Highlights: Picnic benches beside the pond welcome a quiet meal, and the amphitheater hosts regular arts events. It is worth the trip to spend a moment listening to the wind running through the horizon-to-horizon rows of mature white pines in the plantation to the north.
Fair warning: The main path along the south of the pond bustles with joggers and dog walkers at peak hours. If the goal of getting off campus is a moment of peace and quiet, head to the north side.
Princeton Battlefield State Park
One mile west of the Graduate College, this 100-acre park preserves several of the fields where General George Washington surprised British troops on Jan. 3, 1777, as well as the graves of 21 British and 15 American soldiers.
Highlights: Plaques at the park entrance, the Mercer Oak, the Ionic Colonnade and the memorial stone patio north of the colonnade explain the history of the park and invite reflection. The Clarke House Museum exhibits period artifacts.
Fair warning: Since the grounds are maintained much as they were at the time of the battle, there are few trees. Pack sunscreen.
Nearly 600 acres of deciduous forest can be found one mile south of the Graduate College, on lands preserved and maintained by the Institute for Advanced Study.
Highlights: The substantial size of the park makes it a popular waypoint for migratory birds and introspective walkers, both of which enjoy the quiet woods far from roads. Walkers steadying themselves while crossing the suspended "swinging bridge" on the River's Edge trail make for a popular photo opportunity.
Fair warning: While trails are well maintained, there are few directional markers. Bring a trail map (.pdf). Watch for ticks and mosquitoes, and be prepared for a bit of mud after heavy rains.
Two-thirds of a mile west of the Graduate College, Marquand Park's 17 acres are tailored toward picnickers. Tables, benches, playgrounds and a baseball field are surrounded by an arboretum containing more than 200 specimen trees and shrubs from around the world.
Highlights: The arboretum includes exotic trees rarely seen in New Jersey, including a threadleaf Japanese maple and a dawn redwood.
Fair warning: The playground is popular with community children, so the park can be a busy place on warm days.
Charles H. Rogers Wildlife Refuge
Two-thirds of a mile southwest of the Lawrence Apartments, a 39-acre section of marshland serves as host for New Jersey native flora and fauna. The refuge is most well-known as a sanctuary for birds: a checklist at the entrance logs the 190 different bird species that have been observed nesting in the marsh or stopping over during seasonal migrations.
Highlights: Observation platforms for birdwatchers along West Drive overlook the marsh. If possible, bring along binoculars and a bird guidebook.
Fair warning: Expect the marsh to flood during heavy rains. Space might be limited on the observation platforms at peak hours during migration seasons.
Delaware and Raritan Canal State Park
Running along the south edge of Lake Carnegie, the canal served for much of the 1800s as a commercial shipping route for coal and other goods moving between Pennsylvania and New York. Towpaths on either side of the canal allowed teams of mules to tow unpowered barges, before the rise of steam-powered shipping in the 1840s. Of the 70 miles that comprise the park, 6.33 miles lie in Princeton, and welcome walkers, bikers and canoeists.
Highlights: Many road crossings and landmarks are well-marked with informational signs telling the history of the park. Canoes and kayaks can be rented at the Alexander Road access point, and Turning Basin Park, on the north side of the canal at Alexander Road, provides picnic tables.
Fair warning: The canal towpath crosses many bustling roads. While pedestrians have the right of way in Princeton, it is always prudent to slow down at these junctures — the through traffic may not expect to see joggers and bikers emerge from the woods at full speed.